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Heating bills are nothing to laugh at when it gets cold here in Kentucky. Experts estimate that utility bills across the U.S. will remain at near-record levels this winter, though households burning natural gas may see a slight dip in prices.

On top of those high bills, system damage and inefficiencies can make the cost of heating skyrocket. Without proper maintenance, you might be on the hook for costly heater repairs and part replacements.

That’s where a good HVAC maintenance checklist comes in. No one wants to pay more than necessary to keep their home comfortable in the cold, and a few basic tasks can help preserve your system and keep it running all winter long. If you haven’t done a furnace tune-up in a while, here are the steps worth adding to your checklist.

Change Your Filter

Experts recommend that you check and change the filters throughout your HVAC system at least once every three months. You may need to do this more or less often depending on your household makeup. If it’s been a while, make sure to check for dust and debris on the surface of your furnace.

When switching filters, consider grabbing a trusted brand with a high MERV rating and filter life. High-end options may be a little pricier, but they often last longer and help block more odors and allergens from circulating through your home.

Check the Burner Flames

Your furnace’s burner flames act as the unit’s main heat source. To check your burner flames, you’ll need to power on your furnace and crank up your thermostat.

When they’re strong and healthy, these flames should burn a vibrant and constant blue. If the flame is any other color, often yellow, you may have dirty burners. In some cases, a yellow flame can also signal a gas or carbon monoxide leak.

You shouldn’t do anything to adjust the burners on your own, but you can clear away any dirt or debris around them and check for cracks and damage.

Clean the Flame Sensor

Your flame sensor helps your furnace understand when a flame is burning, ensuring that the system only opens the gas valve during that time. Keeping this sensitive piece of equipment clean can prevent gas leaks and other unwanted side effects.

The flame sensor looks like a thin, metallic rod set into a bracket near the flame stream. Remove and clean it using a fine emery cloth or soft-bristled brush.

Vacuum Dust and Soot

Even if your burner flames are a bright blue, a bit of winter cleaning is never a bad idea. Basic cleaning can even prevent any flammable particles from catching fire in the combustion chamber.

One of the best ways to get rid of any accumulated dust is to use a vacuum hose attachment. Make sure your system’s power is turned off before you clean.

With most units, it’s safe to vacuum anywhere you see dust or soot. You may need to grab a flashlight to make sure you’re getting into every crevice.

You should also clean the blower and blower motor. To do this, you’ll want to unscrew the blower from its control panel and remove it from the unit. Vacuuming is the easiest way to clean this device as well, though a soft-bristled brush can also help get into the nooks and crannies of the fan blades.

As you clean, make sure you aren’t disturbing any of the wiring or controls throughout your unit.

Dust the Pilot Light

Your pilot light is crucial to your system’s performance, as a faulty one can prevent the furnace from igniting. To prevent mishaps, keep the area around the pilot light and hot surface igniter clean.

The best way to do this is by using a drinking straw to blow away any dust. Avoid touching this area, as hot surface igniters are delicate and easy to break.

Inspect the Vents and Chimney

No DIY furnace inspection is complete without a vent and chimney check-up. These structures carry toxic gases away from your home, so it’s essential to be sure there are no gaps or leaks.

Look around the flue pipe on your unit for any dents, gaps, holes, or corrosion. You should also inspect your air ducts for leaks, sealing them with metal tape. Outside, check your vents and chimneys for blockages.

Check the Drive Belt

If your system uses belts to operate, inspecting them should always be part of your furnace maintenance checklist.

Most furnaces have a drive belt that can crack or fray over time. If debris builds on the surface of the belt, it may also need more cleaning than it will get from the vacuuming you’ve done in the step above.

Remove and check the belt for damage. If you think it needs a replacement, you can either contact a heating technician or buy a new belt for DIY repair if you feel comfortable with this basic heating system maintenance task.

Test Your Smoke and CO2 Detectors

Last, but not least, ensure your home’s safety by checking the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors around your home. Furnaces are generally safe to operate, but because they use flames and can produce toxic gases, it’s crucial to be sure your family’s well-being is protected if anything goes wrong.

Check your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors at least once a month. You should replace these devices once every 5-7 years.

Tackle Your HVAC Maintenance Checklist

Regular DIY furnace tune-ups can help maintain your system for years to come. You might be surprised at the world of difference a bit of cleaning and some simple changes can make!

In addition to your HVAC maintenance checklist, don’t forget to contact an expert for a professional inspection at least once a year. These inspections can catch any issues you haven’t picked up on and address minor repairs before they snowball into major headaches.

At Fulcrum Mechanical, our team helps Madisonville area residents get year-round comfort, especially when winter winds start to blow! Whether you need a maintenance tune-up or you’re seeking emergency repairs, we’ll offer fast and expert services. Contact us to schedule your appointment.

(270) 975-3419